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Behind The Curtain Of The "Ultimate Empathy Machine": On The Composition Of Virtual Reality Nonfiction Experiences

Chris Bevan, David Phillip Green, Harry Farmer, Mandy Rose, Kirsten Cater, Danaë Stanton Fraser and Helen Brown (2019)

Honorable Mention Award

Publication: In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Proceedings (CHI 2019), May 4–9, 2019, Glasgow, Scotland UK. Publisher: ACM, New York, NY, USA. DOI: Associated Project: "Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters".


Virtual Reality nonfiction (VRNF) is an emerging form of immersive media experience created for consumption using panoramic “Virtual Reality" headsets. VRNF promises nonfiction content producers the potential to create new ways for audiences to experience “the real"; allowing viewers to transition from passive spectators to active participants. Our current project is exploring VRNF through a series of ethnographic and experimental studies. In order to document the content available, we embarked on an analysis of VR documentaries produced to date. In this paper, we present an analysis of a representative sample of 150 VRNF titles released between 2012-2018. We identify and quantify 64 characteristics of the medium over this period, discuss how producers are exploiting the affordances of VR, and shed light on new audience roles. Our findings provide insight into the current state of the art in VRNF and provide a digital resource for other researchers in this area.


@inproceedings{bevan2019behind, title={Behind the Curtain of the" Ultimate Empathy Machine" On the Composition of Virtual Reality Nonfiction Experiences}, author={Bevan, Chris and Green, David Philip and Farmer, Harry and Rose, Mandy and Cater, Kirsten and Stanton Fraser, Dana{\"e} and Brown, Helen}, booktitle={Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems}, pages={1--12}, year={2019} }